I know that order is in here somewhere

(Note: In yesterdays post I discussed why I feel it is beneficial to memorize orders.  I will not recap to avoid redundancy, which itself if redundant in this post.)

I am terrible with names.  Not particularly good with faces either.  I will forget three things every time I take a trip.  I promise I will remember to bring that CD I was telling you about next time I see you.  I have left the house in my slippers.  This seems like a good chance to wish a happy belated birthday to everyone who had one before the days when Facebook reminded me.  There was a point to this paragraph, but I am not sure what it was.

If you ask most of my friends, they will gladly tell you how forgetful I am.  If you ask my guests, they will tell you I am some sort of memorization genius.  Memorizing orders is skill rather than a talent.  A talent is something you are born with.  A skill is something you get better at through technique and practice.  I am an absent minded person who has trained himself to be highly proficient at memorizing orders.

When I started memorizing orders I was not taught a particular method.  No one has written the book on it (although I have written a chapter in a book on it) and no technique is generally passed down through training.  Even the servers I have asked could not explain how they do it.  This led me to wonder how I did it.  Over the past few weeks I have been working on defining my technique.  Paying attention to what is happening in my head as I receive this information has allowed me to understand how I do it.  Through this understanding, I think I have developed a method that can be duplicated by others with enough practice.

Here are the six steps I use when memorizing orders:

Answer Questions: In order to effectively memorize orders you must put yourself in a mental state where you are receptive to information.  If you are asked a question, you must shift back to providing information.  This transition can scramble everything you are putting in your brain and cause you to lose details.  For this reason, I make a trip to the table while they are deciding to answer questions.  Approaching the table by saying, “Are there any questions over the menu?” allows for them to ask the questions in advance.  If they have questions, you can answer them and then let them decide if they are all ready to order.  This will alleviate 90% of the questions they will normally ask while ordering.

Visualize the Plate: When a guest orders something off the menu, picture the plate in your head.  As they modify the side items or the entrée, visualize that as well.  This is incredibly effective for visual learners.  Your experience seeing the entrees at your restaurant comes in very handy for this step.  This is my primary method of memorization with the other steps serving as redundancies.

Visualize the Menu: Mark the spot on the menu they are ordering from in your head.  This is a safeguard against any distractions that may occur before completing the other steps.  If for any reason you lose an order in your head, this will allow you to retrieve the mental picture.  This also allows you to keep straight any often confused items that can be found on separate places on the menu.

Repeat Mentally: For non-visual learners this may be your primary method.  After the guest tells you their order, repeat it in your head. Now you have the order in their voice and in your mental voice.  Use a clear mental voice to state it in the proper order for the computer and with the name you are familiar with.  By this step you should have a mental picture of the plate and how you will order it in the computer.  Take a brief second before looking to the next guest to “lockdown” this information.

Confirm: Repeat the order back to the guests.  This step serves three purposes.  First, it confirms their order in front of the whole table to prevent future problems.  Second, it allows you to clarify in what order you will be delivering courses to provide a roadmap of the meal.  Third, some guests seem to think it is the coolest trick on earth.  For tables that mention I have not been writing down the order, I will often skip the person who pointed it out.  This allows them the excitement of thinking they have me stumped, before I come back to them.  Showmanship is always good for tips.  If the table is large and confirming would be time consuming and annoying, step back and mentally confirm to yourself from a distance.

Write it Down: This may be the real secret to memorization.  These tricks have a limited lifespan in your brain.  Inevitably you will walk by a cook shouting out orders and confusion will set in.  If for any reason you cannot ring your order right away, write it down.  This is especially important if you work in a restaurant where you are responsible for pacing your own courses.  When you write it down, make sure to take the time to note all modifiers.  Failing to do so is the most common source of mistakes.

Over the years I have used some of these methods independently.  The key is redundancy.  The more methods you use simultaneously, the more likely it is that one of them will make it stick.  Even if you have your own technique, try blending in a couple of these steps to improve your outcomes.  While you are at it, why not share your techniques with the rest of the class?  Did you give this method a try and want to report on your results?  Do you already do something oddly similar and want to compliment me on my coincidental brilliance?  The comment section is open, let me know what you think.

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